"Behold, he stands behind our wall, he looks in from the windows; he peers through the lattice." (Song of Songs, 2:9)

The images of two young soldiers hover in the recesses of my mind. One image is startlingly clear, the way things looks the day you get a new pair of glasses - our Akiva, dark-haired, broad, and muscular. His mocha eyes crinkle with laughter and his smile is guileless. The other image is blurred as if obscured by fog - tawny-haired, bearded Elisha, the son of Danny, my office mate. I cannot read the expression of Elisha's amber eyes.

The days of the Second Lebanon War follow each other in gruesome procession. Fierce battles, heavy casualties, BintJbail, Avivim - grim snatches of the morning news on the radio jar me into wakefulness. When I rise, my belly is hollow and nauseous; my knees are unwilling to support me. I shudder hearing the daily litany of casualties recited on the news. Threading my way down the bus aisle to my favorite seat in the back center, I pass fellow commuters hidden behind the morning's crisp newspapers. I can't look away. The creaseless faces of yesterday's dead looking out from the front page mesmerize me: that one must be the class clown with his mocking eyes, this one bashful. In the center of the bottom row of photographs is a boy with a cleft chin, and wavy light hair. Confident machismo exudes from the newsprint. It cannot be he's gone.

My body tenses as my cell phone comes to lifeOn Monday, at my workstation in a high-tech Jerusalem firm, my fingers flit over the keyboard, neglecting work. I surf between CNN, Fox, and the Jerusalem Post scanning photos of our soldiers: rough beards, weary postures. Some raise their fingers in a "V" while supporting wounded comrades. I squint, searching for Akiva's face among them, for his wide shoulders and the enchanting bump in the middle of his nose. My body tenses as my cell phone comes to life, flashing and beeping. "Thank G‑d all is OK, Love Akiva." I snatch the device, staring at the tiny screen. My shoulders sag suddenly as if I had just dropped a thirty-kilo weight. Part of my mind returns to my work.

The phone jangles, intruding on my semi-concentration.

"Val?" I hear the voice of Danny, my office-mate.

I check the clock. 7:30. Early still. He must be calling in to tell me he's sick.


His voice isn't right.


"I… I need to tell someone at work."

His words are staccato.

"Val?" his deep tone modulates to alto.

I hear a deep sigh.

"My… our son was killed yesterday."

My throat constricts. I shake so hard, I'm sure the ground is trembling beneath me. I look at the pencil lying on my desk, but it lies still. My eyes run over the picture collage of Danny's daughter and four sons on the wall of the office we've shared the last eight years.


The syllables slur on my tongue. I looked at the pictures of the young father with two giggling, blond girls. Danny mentioned that Yechiel had been called up and was stationed near the northern border.


The tawny-haired boy looks back at me as he has daily.

"Danny, I'm so sorry," somehow the words tumble from my mouth. "I'm so sorry."

"Please tell Michael Ross, and Anna. I was working on… " his voice wobbles.

"I'll tell them, Danny."

A shaky sigh and the line is dead. My fingers fidget with my cell phone, displaying Akiva's message.

I smear my runny eyes with the backs of my handsI am drawn to Danny's collage; Over the years we've worked together, I've matched his anecdotes with the faces on the wall. Elisha atop a towering cliff in man-dwarfing desert terrain - Elisha, elbows bent, fingers splayed, chin jutting forward, facing a group of youths - Elisha, neck arched slightly backwards, a wide grin with ample spaces between the teeth.

I trudge through the pale yellow corridors, mumbling Danny's news to colleagues. In my wake, morning banter is smothered. Fresh coffee goes cold. As I return to my desk, I quiver like an epileptic. I smear my runny eyes with the backs of my hands, then abandon the proposal on my blurry screen. I join a solemn huddle of co-workers in the hall. Four of us drive in Moshe's car to Danny.

The street is marked; black and white mourner's signs with the name Elisha Steinberg have been stapled to the pine tree next to the bright poster of ice creams at the right of the corner kiosk. Soldiers and commanders speak in controlled tones at the base of Danny's building. We mount the steps slowly. Each one feels like five. As is customary in a house of mourning, the door hangs ajar. Inside, groups cluster by age and gender; Sima, Danny's wife, and her friends, Danny and his, and the daughter and three sons, each holding court with his cronies. Muffled sobs, sniffles, guffaws, and choked giggles bubble up from the groups. The room fills with the aroma of fresh untouched pastry and stale cups of coffee. Danny's tall body is hunched over in a folding chair, short-cropped gray head arched downwards.

I embrace Sima like a lost relative, though I have met her only twice over the past few years. We plunk down into the few unoccupied metal chairs in the compact living room, opposite Danny. My eyes catch his, searching.

"When's the funeral?" a colleague questions.

"Don't know yet." Danny gulps, looks at his tiled floor, and clasps his hands together, first right over left, then left over right. "They don't have the body yet."

The body?

"His tank was the first in a convoy. They took a direct hit. Two guys were wounded. They got out. But Elisha and the commander..." Danny shook his head.


I pause at a photo of Elisha with a desert sunset as his backdrop"They're still shooting." Danny's chest heaves a great sigh. "They've put up concrete barriers around the tank. You know, the engineering corps. The officers update us all the time. We'd hate for any other boys to... " his voice breaks off, "… trying to get them out."

Danny stands suddenly. Excusing himself, he weaves through the tight clusters of visitors, slips through a doorway, and disappears into a vestibule. Moments later he rejoins us, his cheeks blotchy, damp patches on his plaid shirt.

I flip through a small haphazardly-assembled album of Elisha's pictures. A boy and girl about fourteen, each chewing gum, crouch over me as I turn the pages. I pause at a photo of Elisha with a desert sunset as his backdrop.

"Elisha was my Bnei Akiva [youth group] counselor," the girl to my left begins. "I have kidney problems, and I need to drink all the time. There was this trip planned at the end of eighth-grade. That was all the other kids talked about the whole month of June - what they'd bring – cameras, playing cards, and snacks. Knowing I couldn't go, I tried so hard to block it out, pretending I didn't hear their plans. The night before the trip, there was this rapping at the door. My mom answered. It was Elisha. He said to me, 'Chani, you want to see my desert?' I nodded helplessly and looked at my parents. Within ten minutes, Elisha had sat down with my parents, totally charmed them, and promised to look after me. I went! I went with everyone. I wasn't the poor, sick freak. For the first time ever, I was one of the chevra - the gang - keeping up, walking the long trails, singing, shrieking, and laughing. Elisha and a couple other boys each carried an extra two liters of water for me. Elisha loved the desert. It's so big and stark." She took the album from me for a moment looking at Elisha closely. "He knew all the trails, even where to find water for wading in June!"

She moved so close to me, the scent of her mint gum filled the air between us. I sniveled along with her. We turned the album pages until arriving at a picture of Elisha with an ear-splitting grin, covered in snow, hands bare and scarlet.

"Remember that, Chani?" the boy to my right asked. He grasped the corner of the album. "We'd do anything Elisha said, wouldn't we?"

The girl concurred, nodding yes. She smiled weakly and wiped her sleeve quickly under her nose and over her cheeks.

"Remember the big snowstorm in the winter?" The youth pulled the album away and held it close to his eyes, like someone who needs multi-focal lenses. "Everyone else in the whole city was curled under a blanket, drinking cocoa. Elisha called us up and said we've got to go out, find an open pharmacy, and bring medicine to a bunch of old folks in the neighborhood. I was with him. He's Golani [a select army unit], he didn't take a coat or gloves. We came back like walking snowmen with raw hands. When we got to the door of that cranky, skinny old lady on the fifth floor, she laughed out loud."

One girl walks with the gait of an octogenarian, supported at her elbows by the othersA murmur ripples through the room. Girls in ground-sweeping jean skirts shuffle through the entrance. One walks with the gait of an octogenarian, supported at her elbows by the others. Face masked by uncombed dirty-blond hair, she lingers in the doorway, then pushes past the visitors as if she's come home.

"That's Sarit, Elisha's fiance," Danny watches her. "Sima says it'll be really hard on her. She is so quiet, holds it all in."

Just a month ago, Akiva and his girl, Liat, sit side by side on the living room sofa in Liat's parent's home. They've decided, and some friends know. He's a happy kid, but I've never seen him happier. He's got a cordless phone pressed to one ear and a mobile phone to another. Liat's shimmering black hair swishes over slim shoulders. Akiva, captivated by her, guffaws at her giggles. Contrapuntal ringtones sing out as she alternates accepting congratulations on their engagement between two cell phones.

Chairs in Danny's apartment clank irreverently as visitors strain to make space for new arrivals. Moshe and Danny embrace tightly, their chests shuddering with hollow sobs. We leave.

Over the next few days at work, I become the authority on Danny's Elisha.

"When's a good time to go?"

"Haven't they retrieved the body yet?"

"When's the funeral?"

I grope through the day's routine, but am riveted to the small space of Danny's apartment. Elisha watches me from his place on the wall. I return his gaze, scrutinizing the different poses and expressions in the collage.

Regardless of when I've eaten last, I feel full, like my belly and food pipe have been topped off; I can't even eat chocolate.

On Tuesday afternoon I pick up the phone after the fifth ring.

"I'm just at wit's end," Liat's mother begins. "We've been to bridal salons all over. She can't find anything. You have no idea how much easier it is to be the mother of the boy!" she laughs.


"I've been to the seamstress, and she's making my gown in that antique pink we both liked. You've bought a dress already, haven't you?"

I blink under Elisha's steady gaze. "I can't do it now."

"You know there'll be so much to do later on. Better get that dress."


Our conversation ends.

Freshly-shaven soldiers in dress uniforms slide the coffin from the jeepWednesday night at nine, I join a burgeoning assembly in the shivery silence at Mt. Herzl. Danny, Sima, and their children proceed, each of their steps tortured, as if treading on blistered feet. A jeep of odd proportions follows nearly on the heels. Freshly-shaven soldiers in pressed dress uniforms slide the coffin from the jeep and hoist it to their shoulders in a swift motion. In the iron-rigid sets of their faces I sense teeth clenching, lip biting, and blinking. The coffin is lowered smoothly into the prepared rectangular hole. In turn, each soldier empties a plastic bag of earth and gravel on Elisha. At first the thudding is hollow, then muffled, earth hitting earth.

The crowd is large enough for a small demonstration. Straight-backed, lean teenagers with glorious heads of hair curled, tousled, and wavy, stand, embracing one another tightly.

A young man shuffles towards the open grave.

"E-li-sha," he sobs out each syllable slowly, his voice breaking with deep snivels, chest shuddering. "How can I be without you?" He prostrates himself on the ground next to the grave, fingers clenching the freshly turned soil, toes twitching on the ground. The crowd is silent, paralyzed. He repeats his cries, voice muffled by the earth. Only Danny moves forward. Kneeling, he holds Elisha's friend by the arms and speaks to him in whispers. After several moments pass, punctuated only by inhuman howls, the young man presses himself upwards off the ground and allows Danny to lead him to the side.

Danny stands among his sons, not bothering to sweep the hematite-red earth from his shirt. He nods to Yechiel, his eldest.

"I'm reading this. It was written by my father," Yechiel begins, voice clear and steady.

"When I was a young father, I'd come home from work about six, and the kids would rush towards me. Yechiel and Rinat would skip and run - and you, Elisha - you came to me crawling as fast as a human being possibly can, your mop of unruly light curls jiggling and shaking with your exertion. Your giggle reminded me of tinkling wind chimes. You drove your kindergarten teachers to distraction, but they adored you nonetheless. What other birthday boy counted out the squares of chocolate and insisted on giving the large squares with the cow imprint to his best friends? The science teacher in fourth grade couldn't tell you why it thunders here in the winter, and in Grandma's New York house, in the summer. In high school, after the fifth time you went seeking an adventure in the Judean desert, your principal decided against calling rescue squads to find you. He was sure you knew the way back to school better than those who would come looking for you. Elisha, you did us honor coming to our family.

"Elisha, you did us honor coming to our family"Sarit, when Elisha brought you home for that first Shabbat meal in the early summer, we delighted in watching the two of you together. He licked his parched lips and you filled his glass with water. Seeing your eyes wander around the room, your fingers drumming on the table, he put you at ease with our family with a look of his golden eyes - Ima always called them tiger eyes. You lifted one eyebrow, and he knew it was time to go. You two didn't need words.

Sarit, we barely got to know you, but now we share the same excruciating ache. As you sat in our apartment these last couple of days, I know you jumped, as I did, every time the door creaked on its hinge, thinking somehow he'd walk through the door. We know ultimately you'll go forward, to a different destiny, but for right now, Sarit, don't walk away from us, please. Sit with us a bit more, share with us stories of Elisha."

Yechiel lowered his head and stepped back.

The crowd stood still for several moments, then began slowly to disperse.

Some time after the ceasefire was declared, as I stood at the sink in my kitchen, I sensed a shadow passing across the window in front of me. Seeing Akiva, dusty and rumpled, army bag slung over his shoulder, the sudsy dishes slipped from my hands. I took in every detail, his stubbly beard, sunburned neck, and his grimy fingernails, and filed the precious image in my mind.

Sleep abandons me the few weeks between Akiva's army release and the wedding. The few hours of free time daily are filled with wedding menu consultations, frantic searches for an apartment, and appliance and clothes procurement. Unfailingly, I awaken when the night is black and still - Are eight chickens going to be enough for all those yeshiva boys? If all of the in-laws come, will they fit in that apartment I'm renting?

I feel Elisha with us in our joy, pushing us forwardAt the Shabbat Chatan – the Shabbat before the wedding – my living room is filled with forty guests, mostly Akiva's friends. They sit, uniformly dressed in white shirts and dark pants, eyes shut in concentration, singing soulfully. I take advantage of their closed eyes to look at them carefully, to remember. Between them, images of Elisha flash before me: the unbridled toothy laugh and the impassioned discussion with his Bnei Akiva charges.

Under the chupah we stand, as in a trance. The rabbi nods for me to follow Liat and her mother as they encircle Akiva - the wine, the ring, the seven blessings. I feel Elisha with us in our joy, pushing us forward like the wind billowing through a sail.